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Untangled Web: Mighty Marvel Team-Ups

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After the travesty that was last month’s three issue cycle of Amazing Spider-Man, I had low hopes for Zeb Wells’ initial Brand New Day arc, however Marvel has been hyping issue #s 555-557 for months now thanks to one obvious X-factor: Wolverine...

Any lingering doubts that ASM wouldn’t enter into the larger Marvel Universe were squashed this month when the webhead reconvened with his New Avenger allies in a post-Back in Black, pre-Dr. Strange leaving the team appearance (we’re confused how that’s possible too). Although Peter only drops by to grab some breakfast, Dr. Strange delivers an eerie premonition sending Spider-Man and Wolverine out into a New York City blizzard to deal with a group of rampaging Mayan spirits. With that in mind, we here at Broken Frontier thought it’d be worthwhile to take a look back at some of Spidey’s more iconic team-ups with everyone’s favorite formerly amnesiac Canadian brawler.

The golden standard by which all Wolverine/Spider-Man team ups are judged is the now classic 1987 one-shot: Spider-Man vs. Wolverine. Written by Jim Owsley (now known as Christoper Priest), a writer/editor who penned runs on ASM, Power Man and Iron Fist, and the Captain America and the Falcon series from 2004, Spider-Man vs. Wolverine holds up as an action-packed thriller. It puts two of Marvel’s most recognizable characters against the backdrop of Cold War-era Russia before letting them go head to head in a graveyard. J. Jonah Jameson assigns Peter Parker and Daily Bugle writer Ned Leeds, one of the many Hobgoblins, to the task of hunting down Charlie, a mysterious KGB operative last seen in communist Russia.

When they arrive, Peter runs into Logan who recognizes him by smell, and after some quick super-hero chitchat Pete returns to the hotel to find Ned with his throat slashed by the KGB. To make a long story short, it turns out that Charlie is actually one of Wolverine’s many girlfriends and that she’s on a Kill Bill-esque revenge quest to take out as many KGB soldiers as she possibly can. Once she reaches her designated kill quota, Charlie asks Wolverine to kill her as an alternative to being caught and tortured. Wolverine agrees and of course, Spider-Man refuses and the two duke it out over a right to die case straight out of Million Dollar Baby. Unfortunately, as a Russian helicopter closes in, Peter becomes confused and accidentally punches Charlie right in the temple, killing her on impact. The story ends with Peter returning to America completely haunted by the fact that he’s once again responsible for yet another death.

Just this past January, Marvel revisited this classic Spider-Man story in the form of a What If…?- branded sequel in which Peter Parker, grief-stricken over his hand in Charlie’s death, decides to stay in Russia with Wolverine and protect Charlie’s assassin sister, Alex, who’s on the run from a rogue group of former KGB soldiers. Along the way, Spider-Man ends up killing even more splinter cell operatives and eventually calls in Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. to spearhead Alex’s journey to safety. A darker take on your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to be sure, but fans who liked Spider-Man: Reign or Todd McFarlane’s tenure on Spider-Man are sure to find something to like here.

A decidedly different team up occurred in Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man during issues #66 and 67 back in 2004. Appropriately titled, Even We Don’t Believe This and Jump the Shark, this two-parter chronicles what happens when Jean Grey inexplicably switches the minds of Wolverine and Spidey a la the Jodie Foster classic (or Lindsay Lohan depending on your age), Freaky Friday. Basically, it involves a lot of hi-jinx. Logan puts the moves on a teenage MJ and is forced to sit through high school while Peter gets acquainted with Wolverine’s great wealth of body hair. Seriously. If the idea of Spider-Man brooding Dark Knight style and gunning down Russian soldiers doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you might be better off checking out this almost universally reviled, yet rather funny and lighthearted, take on what happens when two of Marvel’s most diametrically opposed heroes switch bodies.

How did Zeb Wells’ team-up fare in comparison to these stories? Well, to be honest, the answer’s a little more complicated than a simple thumbs up or down. For those expecting a solid Spidey/Wolverine adventure in the vein of the old days, I’m afraid you’re in for a serious disappointment. Dr. Strange and Wolverine’s appearances are the biggest weak points in this three-issue yarn, and unlike the other elements of the story that gel together so seamlessly, the introduction of the New Avengers post MJ’s deal with the devil feels shoehorned in to boost sales, a standard trick that’s been known to grind otherwise solid books into the ground. However, for fans searching out a great Spider-Man story, look no further. This is the best the webslinger’s been since Brand New Day launched twelve issues ago.

After a relatively ho-hum opening issue introducing Dr. Strange’s prediction that Spidey will have to face off with an ancient Mayan god, his New Avengers teammates completely drop out of the story leaving Peter alone and stranded in a New York blizzard while friend Carlie Cooper and officer Vin Gonzalez find themselves trapped in a police precinct with a mad mathematician hell bent on using calculus to transform himself into a deity. The major difference between this arc and the previous one is that Zeb Wells treats the wall-crawler with the dignity and seriousness the character rightfully deserves. There are no wacky captions, no ridiculous notes from the editor, yet Peter remains upbeat and humorous throughout the entire three-issue arc.

The patented Brand New Day voice is perfected here and it’s a shame that it’s such a dramatic departure from what has come before. While Dan Slott and Marc Guggenheim’s opening stories hold up as cute, little throwback tales, Zeb Wells manages to not only make Spider-Man fun again, but also instill the reader with a sense of genuine danger. I won’t even mention the horror that was Bob Gale’s Freak storyline except to say that series editor Steve Wacker wouldn’t be faulted in the least if he banished the latest addition to Spidey’s rogues gallery to the limbo reserved for "classic" villains such as Ezekiel, Tendril or the Circus of Crime.

Longtime X-Men artist Chris Bachalo handles pencils this month and I can’t believe I’m saying this but his work definitely ranks alongside the best of the recent Spidey artists such as Ron Garney, Steve McNiven, Joe Quesada and even the legendary John Romita Jr. himself. Bachalo’s Spidey leaps off the page with a speed and fluidity reminiscent of the best work of Mark Bagley’s long, illustrious career with the wall-crawler. Especially impressive is a final act set piece in which Spider-Man’s godlike adversary gains control over time and in a beautifully laid out two-page spread, attacks Spider-Man from one panel and connects in another occurring half a page earlier. Maybe I’m a sucker for stunts (I loved the massive pullout from the final issue of Ultimates vol. 2) but each time the Mayan god struck Spidey from the past or the future, I couldn’t help myself from grinning with childish glee.

After last month’s dreadful performance, I have to admit that I was a little concerned about the future of Amazing Spider-Man, but as long as Zeb Wells counts himself among the Spider Braintrust, I’m willing to stick it out and see just what the boys at Marvel have planned for old Peter Parker. However, one of the problems that has become painfully apparent after only twelve issues is that the book varies wildly in quality and tone depending on which writer is penning any given issue. Slott and Guggenheim’s issues jive well together despite feeling like a whole other series when read alongside Wells’ work. Meanwhile, the schlocky mess that is Bob Gale’s take on Spider-Man would feel right at home in an issue of Web of Scarlet Spider. Regardless, after these three issues, I’m excited to see where Spider-Man will go from here.

*Checks Marvel’s publishing catalog only to discover that the next issue of ASM centers on the return of not only Bob Gale, but Freak as well.*

Unbelievable.

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